Friday, August 26, 2016

What does it mean to believe?

This evening I finished watching one of my all time favorite movies with the family. I remember the first time I saw it at the Byrd Theatre in Richmond, sitting near the back on the right. I had sneaked off to catch it having heard good things back in 1996. I was seconds late, and missed just a bit of the dramatic pullback through space/time that is the opening shot to Zemeckis' Contact.

The profound thing for me about this story is how it plays with the idea of belief. There are portrayals of all kinds of belief, naive, aggressive,  fundamentalist, wishy-washy, etc. And in it all, even when it condemns some forms of faith, it upholds "a different sense of standards" from proof in a logical or scientific way, as well as affirming that it is after the same outcome, Truth.

Another affirming thing, that pushes against a phrase I have heard too often, was about finding our own answers. Too often I have been rubbed wrong by the phrase, "Find your own truth." If it is true, it is not up to debate. I like the intention, but the meaning of the words gets in the way. If we seek our own answers to the big questions, then we are finding our response to our understanding of Truth, instead of making a claim that there are multiple truths. Philosophically I have always had a time with that.

Belief and Knowledge (reminder that the word Science means knowledge) are both seeking at what is most real, what it Truth. I hold to my beliefs, because my experience has led me to cling to these, whether from family of origin, tragedy, heartbreak, or theophany, we all hold tight to our beliefs for as long as we can. They are deeper than thoughts. Lots of thoughts run through my mind all day long, and only a few are rabbits that I chase. Beliefs are the Operating System for my choices and actions. They are the underlying motive for what I do. Lots of people claim beliefs that never show up in their daily actions, and none of us can stand that hypocrisy.  And language stills gets in the way.

There are two German words for knowing. kennen and weissen. If you weiss something, it is like a fact. I know 2 + 2 = 4. Ich weiss 2 + 2 = 4. That is one level of knowing. Then there is kennen. This is reserved for people and places. I know my wife. I know my kids. I know my neighborhood. Ich kenne Sie. I know them. I love that one can kenne a city, the beautiful, living, breathing, breeding things that they are. Sometimes in conversation I will use the words "head knowledge vs. heart knowledge." When we know something down deep, down in our gut, we kennen it. Belief is like that. For good. For bad. That is why it is so hard to make a change.

Living a life of belief is hard when one does not understand. It seems crazy or irrational from the outside. Being a person of faith makes no sense to those for whom faith is nominal or non-existent. In college a good friend, in a sincere attempt at helping me asked how could I waste all I had going for me by working in the Church. From his perspective it was an absolute waste. From mine, I could not think of anything higher, better or more worthy. (Interesting that even with all the water that has passed under this bridge I still feel the same way.)  And maybe it is as simple as James puts it, "Faith without works is dead." Our faith cannot be just mental adherence to a concept. We daily have to make our choices shown by our actions and lifestyle that we mean what we say, and that we practice what we preach.

For me that is what belief comes down to, evidence and experience pile up to the point where I have to shape my life in such a way that this "concept" lives itself out in me. I can know something and not have it impact me. I can know deep down something and if I do not act on it, some part of me dies.

In my favorite novel, Les Miserables, that is the case. Jean Valjean, the main character, after robbing a bishop of his house silver is set free by the victim of his crime by the bishop saying it was a gift, and tossing on two expensive candlesticks to boot. Valjean is dealing with this attack on his anger and cynicism when a boy's coin rolls up against his foot on a deserted country road. His old self takes hold, and he puts his foot down on it and no matter the boy's protests will not move an inch to help him. Once the boy leaves in tears, he picks up the coin and remembers the bishop's words about the expensive silver. "I have bought your soul." The guilt and built-up rage of twenty years erupts. The bishop's actions went directly against the "every-man-for-himself" belief that unjust years in prison had taught him. His experience of Grace went against his beliefs. Something had to give, and at that moment, after his inhumanity to the boy over the coin, Jean Valjean was saved. It is a lot cleaner in the movies and the musical, often the bishop's actions were enough. But belief is not like that. In Contact, the inquiry into her voyage was the turning point. She had to name that her belief was greater than her knowledge. Her head was overruled by her heart. Her experience coupled with with what little evidence she had, would overrule whatever they brought against her. She chose to live by her Belief, which she saw as a greater Truth. As did Jean Valjean, as the rest of the novel points out. As do I, I hope and pray.

Belief is the human spirit at its best. It can be manipulated by the human heart at its worst. But maybe that is the price we pay as we journey toward Truth, to the best of our ability.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hi! Thanks for wanting to comment. Please add it here, and after a moderator reviews it, it will be posted if appropriate. Look forward to hearing your opinion.
Blessings, Rock